How Thanksgiving Will Save Us (Especially This Year)

When our wee slip of a girl slips and falls out in the orchard, I come and gather her up, and we hold onto each other under the gnarled trees, in a year that’s crashed and burned in all kinds of painful ways.

You know it: How many millions around the planet have fallen ill with a novel virus that humanity is still trying to understand?

More than a million families have wiped away the tears falling over graves of loved ones who didn’t survive.

I choke up reading of doctors and nurses falling into bed exhausted,  and discouraged, and scared.

Savings keep falling. Unemployment keeps rising.

Plans and dreams for the year have teetered and toppled, and hopes of full houses for the holidays have fallen eerily quiet.

Who hasn’t murmured it weary this year, “How long, Lord?” 

The Psalms become our song in a year where we can’t collectively sing without risk of spreading a virus. 

And I keep coming back to these Psalms of lament and pain and frustration — bookended by thanksgiving and praise.  Like Psalm 106, which actually gives us God’s commanded bookends for every moment, every breath:  the psalm opens in praise – and closes in praise.

This is called an inclusio: a Hebrew poetic pattern that repeats a phrase at both the beginning and end of a psalm and is meant to give the sense of completion. The beginning phrase not only sets the tone of the entire psalm, but, with the repeating ending phrase, creates a sense of unity.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (Ps. 106:1, 48). There – that is God’s given pattern for our lives, especially when we’ve all fallen on hard times. Praise is how we bookend our painful moments, and lead genuinely complete lives.

When we “give thanks to the Lord” (v. 1), our days are given a deep sense of unity, even in a year of deep fragmentation with so many of our hopes left in tatters.

Giving thanks to us God is what keeps us in union with God — when we seem to be sorely lacking unity these days

If our lives are not characterized by giving thanks to God, our lives are then characterizing God as not good (v. 1).

Who can…declare all His praise?” (v. 2). If God’s steadfast love knows no end, what could possibly make our thanks to Him end?

John Calvin suggests that in hard times, we have no greater opportunity than to give thanks :

God requires nothing greater from us than giving thanks. Giving thanks is a more acceptable service than all sacrifices. 

God is continually heaping innumerable benefits…

Ingratitude, therefore, is intolerable.” ~John Calvin

Ingratitude is intolerable — because it’s exactly the ingratitude that makes things intolerable. When we don’t make thanksgiving the posture of our lives, we’re pressed down, bearing the heavy burden of our lives.  

When writing the Moral Vision of the New Testament, the esteemed theologian Robert Hays concluded: “The fundamental human sin is the refusal to honor God and give God thanks.”

If our fundamental sin is ingratitude, our gratitude can fundamentally change the world.

Calvin writes,

“The stability of the world depends on the rejoicing in God’s works…if, on earth, such praise of God does not come to pass…then the whole order of nature will be thrown into confusion.” ~John Calvin

And the confusion we’ve all been thrown into this year, it reads much like how the meat of Psalm 106 reads; it reads like the history of God’s children forgetting their Father’s faithfulness; they “do not consider [God’s] wondrous works” (v. 7), “they did not remember the abundance of [God’s] steadfast love” (v. 7), “they soon forgot [God’s] works” (v. 13), “they forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things…wondrous works…and awesome deed” (vv. 21, 22).

But God.

Remarkably, in Psalm 106, like all of Scripture, recounts how God never stops remembering His people: “Nevertheless, He looked upon their distress when He heard their cry. For their sake, He remembered His covenant” (Ps. 106: 44).

Christ remembers His covenant with covenant breakers – what could ever have us complaining again?

The call on every Christian’s life is to be a study in remembering… re-membering. Remember and count all God’s good gifts, because that is what re-members us and puts our broken pieces back together again.

Re-member and thank God for the brave health care workers. 

Re-member and thank God for the faithful essential workers. 

Re-member and thank God for the tired pastors. 

And the weary mothers, and tired fathers, and scared kids, and isolated students and lonely grandparents, and remember to give thanks for all the ways we all keep holding on to each other, helping each other, loaning hope to each other.  God hasn’t given up on us, and we don’t give up our giving thanks.  

I wipe the tears off Baby Girl’s little cheeks.

I know, sweet Child, I know. 

Such a fallen and broken and deeply bruising year.

And like my friend, Shaun, says, “While there’s still counting votes, counting cases, counting days without work, counting all we’ve lost… we will pause — and still count gifts.”

If we forget and do not give thanks, the whole world – our world – falls into confusion.

The very stability of our world depends on our rejoicing in, remembering, and recounting the goodness of God.

God heaps innumerable benefits — how can we not keep counting gifts, to bring incalculable joy?

I help Baby Girl brush off her pants, help her stand up again. She keeps holding my hand.

Baby Girl looks up at me.

Thanks, Mama.”

“Oh, but for what, Sweet?” I kneel down.

“Just — for everything.” She cups my face and kisses my nose.

And I choke it back — and nod.

Even now, especially now: Thanks be to God. In everything. 

That old Pastor, Eugene Peterson, who long studied the Psalms, he was right:

No matter how much we suffer, no matter our doubts, no matter how angry we get, no matter how many times we have asked in desperation “How long?” — prayer develops finally into praise.

Everything finds its way to the doorstep of praise.”

Everything finds its way to the gate of thanksgiving — to enter the presence of God.

The bookend of a year that defied anything imaginable — draws to an end with defiant thanksgiving and joy. 

Our days and the Divine meet in doxology — because this is how we conquer the dark. 

Our year fills out with gratefulness. Glory, glory, glory. 

I watch a little girl run through the orchard and my heart splits with the grace of right now:

How can we do anything but give thanks when we’ve all fallen into the hands of such a good God? 


What does the Christ-life really look like when your days are gritty, long — and sometimes even dark? How is God even here? My story of just that: One Thousand Gifts

Are you ready to begin—or begin again—a life-changing habit of daily gratitude? Want to reset, refresh, reboot your life and literally rewire your brain? Be one of the more than one MILLION people who have stepped into the life-change of this experience.

It’s only in the expression of gratitude for the life we already have, we discover the life we’ve always wanted . . . a life we can take, give thanks for, and break for others. We come to feel and know the impossible right down in our bones: we are wildly loved – by God.

Let’s end the year strong in joy as we count all the ways He loves us! Life is too short to do anything but truly savor it — to count all the ways you truly loved.